Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer has weighed in to the row over the powers of an FBI-style agency here.
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said lives would be put at risk by curtailing the powers of the National Crime Agency and voiced concerns of perceived “political dogma” surrounding the controversy.
The NCA is due to come into force in October and will target gangs across local, national and international borders.
But its impact in Northern Ireland will be severely restricted after Sinn Fein and the SDLP blocked moves to give the the agency powers to carry out police operations and recruit agents.
They have concerns the body —— whose boss will answer directly to Home Secretary Theresa May rather than the PSNI chief constable — lacks accountability.
Speaking at the launch of the Organised Crime Task Force’s (OCTF) annual report at Crumlin Road jail yesterday, Mr Baggott said any NCA work carried out in Northern Ireland would be done “with complete transparency”.
And he warned that the police’s ability to fight |organised crime and terrorism would be severely hampered by restricting NCA powers here.
He added: “It is essential we retain the expertise, the contacts and the capability of the National Crime Agency. You can’t separate the counter-terrorism efforts from organised crime.
“We know terrorist activities are still funded by fuel laundering, tobacco smuggling, armed robbery, extortion... the list carries on.
“If the NCA isn’t able to operate here there will be a detrimental effect on our ability, not just to keep people safe today, but to keep our children and their children’s futures safe in the long-term. I’m not saying accountability is political dogma but I know the way people will interpret a block on the NCA being able to operate here.”
Justice Minister David Ford, who chairs the OCTF, added that organised crime continued to present challenges.
He said: “The murder of Garda Donohoe in the Republic of Ireland in January has brought home the dangers faced by those fighting organised crime.
“It also highlights the importance of the excellent co-operation that exists between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. The challenges faced by tackling organised crime of course extend well beyond the island.
“Organised crime groups operate into Great Britain and globally. Drugs and human trafficking victims are examples of this. Cyber crime is another and we have recently established a sub-group on that issue.”
The OCTF revealed criminal assets worth about £2.1m were recovered in Northern Ireland in the past year. While the number of tiger kidnappings fell from seven in 2011 to two last year, the OCTF warned there was still a small hardcore of organised crime gangs intent on carrying out this type of offence.
Revenue and Customs officials dismantled 22 fuel laundering plants — mostly in south Armagh.
The OCTF said there was a lack of understanding about the link between organised crime and counterfeit goods. Mr Ford added: “Money spent on fake goods lines the pockets of criminals and enables them to purchase drugs or to run prostitution rings involving trafficked victims.
“We want the public to reject laundered fuel and fake goods and to report suspicious behaviour.”